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Category archive: Architecture

Saturday June 28 2008

The Civitas blog has a posting up, by James Gubb, about Frank Furedi’s publication entitled Licensed to Hug.  Gubb’s posting is sympathic to the points Furedi is making, which is encouraging to me, because I am just the kind of unmarried, childless, rather eccentric and wrong-side-of-middle-aged man who is liable to be put off teaching, or any other kind of helping or working with children, by the fear of being thought, or worse, the fear of being accused of being - a paedophile.  I have now undergone the police checking routine twice.  Fair enough, those are the rules and these are the times we live in.  Postings like Gubb’s suggest that Civitas appreciates having a man like me helping out at their schools, and all the more so because of this scarily unhealthy climate of suspicion that Furedi describes and denounces.

It’s a huge subject, and a difficult one to write about, but one thought does occur to me about why I like working for the two Civitas schools I do work for.  (Actually, I have stopped working at Hammersmith Saturday, but that wasn’t because I didn’t like it.  It was merely that I was surplus to requirements.  I was told they had problems, which was true, they did.  But these problems had actually been solved by the time I showed up there.  Hopefully I will soon be helping out somewhere else.)

So anyway, the thought that occurs to me is this: that both the Civitas schools I’ve been teaching at consist of one quite big space, with several teaching operations going on in different parts of the same space.  This actually has a big bearing on this sensitive issue of sexual misconduct, and, more precisely, of the fear of being accused of it.

My previous attempt to help at a school didn’t involve me teaching in a big space, along with other teachers and pupils.  I was on my own, that is to say I was on my own with the one kid, not in a little room, thank goodness, but out in the open area between the classrooms.  So far as I know, nobody ever suspected me – certainly nobody ever accused me - of anything untoward or inappropriate.  But it did occur to me that if a child took against me and accused me of something wicked, it would be my word against his.  (It usually was his, at that school, rather than hers.  That’s because my job was to take troublesome boys for one-to-one teaching, out of classes that they might otherwise disrupt or otherwise be a bit of a problem in.) That was a slightly scary thought.  It wasn’t likely to happen, but if it did ...  What if I had then got caught up in some quasi-legal mincing machine which assumed all such accusations to be true unless proved otherwise?  Not good.

At the Civitas schools, on the other hand, in the event of such unpleasantness, it would not be only my word against a child’s, and any child tempted by the thought of such wickedness would know that.  For that reason alone, a child almost certainly wouldn’t try such a thing.  If a child did try it, the enormity of making such an accusation would quickly be explained, and that would be the end of it, for if a child did make such an accusation, there would be plenty of witnesses to say that I did no such thing, it was all a misunderstanding, he didn’t mean that, etc. etc.

Not only that, but if the personal code of conduct, as it were, that I follow (about such things as bodily contact, shaking hands at the end, and so forth) were to be observed by any of my colleagues, and considered by them to be unwise or open to misunderstanding, then they could straighten me out before any trouble ensued.

Nothing remotely like any of this has happened.  But in this matter as in so many others, I am extremely glad that these other teachers get the chance to keep an eye on me and to watch me in action, in among and as a natural consequence of the way the place works rather than in some kind of self-conscious inspection process.  In general, if I’m not doing what they want, they can say so.  In general, in an open space, they can get to know me, my character, demeanour, general approach, strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and so on.  In the event of needing to reassure somebody about my good character, they’d be comfortable about doing that, because presumably that’s what they have good reason to think that I have.

Likewise, I learn a lot about teaching, and about the proper behaviour of a teacher, from being able to watch them in action.

Working out in the open like this really is a huge improvement on being on my own, the whole Licensed to Hug thing being only one of them, but a significant one, I think. 

Sunday May 25 2008

A week ago I noted the question, concerning the Chinese earthquake: Shoddy Chinese classrooms? According to the New York Times, the answer is: yes.

This is the picture that illustrates it.  On the left, a kindergarten.  On the right, a hotel.  The remnant in the middle is what’s left of the school.


How come the others staid put, but much the school fell down like a house of cards?

Sunday May 18 2008

As feared, thousands of classrooms destroyed in China.  Was their construction poor?  Official enquiry soon begins?

From a comment by “PT”, on this:

Did you know the new generation of schools funded under the PFI scam will probably last no longer than 25 years?

I should know. I design many of them!

That’s way long enough for alternatives to develop, but it is depressing even so, and even if exaggerated.

PFI, by the way, stands for “Private Finance Initiative”.  It’s a way of combining public spending with public borrowing.

Sunday March 23 2008

Fraser Nelson, writes about the race between the two major political parties to be the most Swedish:

Also, millions are being spent on these new schools as per the Brown-Balls cash fixation. They remain wedded to the 1970s Grange Hill model of education, where schools are standalone buildings of about 1,000 pupils, for administrative convenience. The Swedish model is a true social market system, which allocates cash according to the priorities of parents. So its new schools usually occupy office buildings (and on average have fewer than 200 pupils). Parents don’t care how grand the building is, and would rather the money was spent on teachers and education. In this way, new schools can open in a jiffy. It will take years for the rebuilding of the two City Academies outlined in my newspaper.

Indeed.  One of the great twentieth century architectural nonsenses is the claim that form follows function, and accordingly that different functions require different and very expensive forms.  But form does not follow function; form follows fashion.  You can do anything you like inside a decent building.  Live.  Research.  Store books.  Teach.  Anything you like.  I once worked in a bookshop.  Before it was a bookshop, it was a banana warehouse.  Before that, who knows?  It was just a building.  Now it’s a posh shoe shop?  What next?  Whatever anyone cares to do, is what.  Fraser Nelson is quite right. Schools don’t have to be built, they just have to be acquired and moved into.

Sunday February 17 2008

Well, Prince Charles thinks it’s ugly.  It looks a bit weird to me, but maybe if I actually saw I would think it was nice.  The Prince was talking to some soldiers that he is the Colonel of, inside it, and said it looked like a dustbin.  This got a laugh.  Since the soldiers are about to go to Afghanistan, they deserve a laugh.

The Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall is named after the university’s former Vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Ivor Crewe, and was opened in October 2006.


A University of Essex spokeswoman said: “The Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall is regarded as a flagship building.

“It’s probably the most striking modern building on the campus.

“But I don’t think we want to make too much of what the Prince said. It was just a throwaway remark.”

Throwaway.  Dustbin.  You see what she did there?  By mistake probably.  Which the reporter picked up on.

I have a particular interest in all this, because I spent three happy years at Essex U, doing Sociology with a side order of Amateur Dramatics.

Friday February 15 2008

Meanwhile, at Samizdata, they’re arguing about which is the ugliest university, the link hook being this illustrated list from America.

Johnathan Pearce nominates Brighton University.  Is that the same as Sussex?  Here is the Gardner Arts Centre, at Sussex U:


Original picture here.  Nice shapes.  Shame about the bricks.